Blue Sky Communities launches Hillsborough affordable housing project that’s ‘going to impact a lot of people’

The affordable housing to be provided at the Preserve at Sabal Park “is going to impact a lot of people,” Thaddeus M. Bullard, better known as World Wrestling Entertainment star Titus O’Neil, said Thursday. “There is no such thing as a bad kid. People are in bad situations, around bad influences and they make bad choices and bad decisions. Put those same quote-unquote bad people in a good situation around great resources and great people and they have a greater chance to succeed. That’s why I’m extremely excited about this project.” RICHARD DANIELSON | Times

MANGO — With rents rising and affordable housing becoming a leading issue in the Tampa mayor’s race, Blue Sky Communities of Tampa is launching construction on a 144-apartment complex for the working poor.

"These are families that have jobs, but they’re only making $10 or $15 an hour, so where do they live right now?" Blue Sky president Shawn Wilson said Thursday. Probably either in a nice apartment that costs $1,500 to $1,800 a month or a substandard one, maybe in an area with a crime problem, that costs $600 or $700 a month.

The Preserve at Sabal Park, he said, aims to combine safety and amenities (a pool, clubhouse, high-efficiency appliances and an after-school program for children) with rents within those families’ budgets, Wilson said.

Rents will range from a projected $418 to $898 per month, depending on family size and income. For example, a family of three renting a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment would pay $494 a month if they made less than 40 percent of the area’s median income (about $23,000 a year) and $782 a month if they made less than 60 percent ($34,560 a year).

"You’re not going to find a brand-new unit (elsewhere) like this for anywhere near that price," Wilson said.

The Preserve at Sabal Park will offer one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments on 23 acres in unincorporated Hillsborough County at the corner of Williams Road and E Broadway Avenue, about a half-mile east of Hillsborough Community College’s Brandon campus.

Financing for the $30 million project, which is expected to open after 14 months of construction, consists of $24 million from federal, state and Hillsborough County public funds, and $6 million in private bank financing. Affordable housing is desperately needed, County Commissioner Kimberly Overman said, especially with 1,700 people a month moving to Hillsborough County, which is contributing $551,000 to the project.

Advocates have begun hoping that more state funds will be available for this kind of project now that Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed a state budget that does not, as in years past, sweep money out of the state’s trust fund for affordable housing and spend it on other things.

That trust fund is "intended for a purpose, and we need to return to those purposes," said state Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Dover.

In partnership with Metropolitan Ministries, a second phase is expected to start in October with 112 units focused on providing housing, on-site case management and services for tenants emerging from homelessness.

"These families that are going to be served … I was that family," said Thaddeus M. Bullard, 41, who is better known as World Wrestling Entertainment star Titus O’Neil and who has helped Metropolitan Ministries raise more than $1 million. "My mother was raped at a very young age, at 11, had me at 12, against the wishes of a lot of people. We grew up dirt poor in government housing. There were several times when lights weren’t on and things weren’t available."

But Bullard said he found life-changing encouragement and acceptance at the Florida Sheriff’s Boys Ranch.

"There is no such thing as a bad kid." he said. "People are in bad situations, around bad influences and they make bad choices and bad decisions. Put those same quote-unquote bad people in a good situation around great resources and great people and they have a greater chance to succeed. That’s why I’m extremely excited about this project. … It is going to impact a lot of people."

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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